The view up here was out of this world. But I did not linger long on the stunning landscape or the glistening waves surrounding it. I looked back down at the ground, searching for my next instruction. I found it to my left, pointing to yet another flight of stairs that would lead me to an even higher plateau. Arriving at the top, I stopped short as I laid eyes on the plateau. Smack-bang in the center of it was… a sauna?
What the heck is Ben playing at?
A smile was already splitting my face as I approached the wooden structure, but when I noticed Ben through the glass, I burst out laughing.
His hair slicked back, his upper chest exposed, he was wearing a virgin-white bathrobe. He was leaning back casually, one arm resting over the backrest of the bench. Noticing me, he raised one brow, holding a glass of what looked like pineapple juice and raising it, as if to say “cheers”.
With the heavenly view sprawled out all around us, it felt like I’d just walked onto the set of a sauna commercial. The fact that Ben literally emitted a golden-yellow aura didn’t help either.
“Ben!” I gasped, almost crying with laughter. “What the heck?”
Setting aside his glass, he stood up and opened the glass door to let me in.
I stared at him, still laughing. “What is all this?”
He just smiled. Wordlessly, he closed the door behind us before taking my hands and seating me on the bench.
Wow, it was warm in here. I felt my cheeks flushing already.
Ben sat down beside me, retaking his glass of juice and sipping before saying in a light, pleasant voice, “We first met in one of these. Don’t you remember?”
Finally managing to stop giggling, I thought back to the first time I had ever met my now-fiancé. Indeed, it had been in a sauna. Back in The Oasis. At that time, I had known him only as Joseph. Jeramiah had wanted him to half-turn me, but he’d refused. He’d darted out of that sauna the moment he saw me. How long ago that seemed now…
“Yes,” I said. “Of course I remember.”
“Then,” he said, “don’t you think that this is all… rather appropriate?”
“Appropriate for what?” I half laughed, half frowned.
He set down his pineapple juice again. Then he stood up, tightening the rope of his bathrobe around his waist before lowering himself to the floor… on one knee. His right hand delved into the pocket of his bathrobe, and when he withdrew it, he was holding a round box the color and texture of pearl. My breath hitched as he opened it to reveal an even more beautiful object. A delicate silver ring, crowned with a gemstone the color of brilliant turquoise. The color of my eyes.
His face had gone serious now. He cleared his throat and said in a low voice, “Will you marry me, River Giovanni?”
Even as I felt breathless, I couldn’t help but grin. “Again?” I whispered.
His lips curved in a smile. “Again.”
Sliding off the bench, I sank down to his level and flung my arms around his neck. “I’ll marry you a hundred times, Ben,” I said, before pushing my lips to his.
His smile split our kiss. His hands slid up my shoulders and pushed me backward. “Wait, River,” he said, his face deadpan as he reached for my ring finger. “You’re doing it the wrong way round. I’m supposed to put my ring on you first.”
“Says the man who proposed before he had a ring.” I smirked. “I think we should just admit we’ve botched this whole engagement thing. I’m simply happy I’m not betrothed to a ghost.”
Ben took my hand and placed the ring on my finger all the same. I gazed down at it, admiring the way it shimmered against the aura of Ben’s body. Then he pulled me up and we stood side by side. He leaned down, allowing us to lock lips again in a long, tender kiss.
“Mmm,” I murmured, as we surfaced for breath. “You taste like pineapple juice.”
Ben raised a brow. “And what’s more sexy than that?”
“A hunky fairy in a virgin-white bathrobe.”
Ben snorted. “Then I couldn’t have pulled this off better, could I?”
We moved to sit down on the bench again, but I pushed open the door first to let in the breeze. Then I sat next to him, taking his hand and twining my fingers through his.
“Thank you, Ben,” I whispered, glancing again at my sparkling ring.
He brushed his lips against the top of my head and I nestled closer against him. Then we both gazed out at the beauty of the island and sank into comfortable silence. The redwoods swayed gently in the breeze, and the lakes sparkled. Rolling meadows of flowers flowed into fields of vegetables and grain. I could lose myself forever in this view.
“So,” I murmured, “will we get married in this sauna too?”
“That wouldn’t be very creative of me,” Ben said. “I actually had a different idea for the location of our wedding. But it kind of depends on when you want to get married.”
I looked up at him. “When? Well, when would you want to get married?”
“As soon as you want to,” he replied.
“What if I said I wanted to marry you right here, right now?”
“I would ask if you could wait a day or two, when we could join The Shade’s dragons and their mates in a grand wedding ceremony in The Hearthlands.”
I wondered if this was another joke. “The Hearthlands? Are you serious?”
“Yes,” he said. He stood up and gazed down at me, touching my cheek. “I’m quite serious.”